On Saturday, November 4, 2017 my Pennsylvania hiking buddy, Betsy, and I finished New Jersey Appalachian Trail (AT) Section #6. This section is a 13.7 mile long segment which starts from the Pennsylvania side where the I-80 Bridge crosses the Delaware River to the Millbrook Road crossing of the AT in New Jersey. Since Betsy and I had already done the one mile over the bridge from the Delaware Water Gap to the Kittatinny Visitor Center parking area, we only had 12.7 miles to complete today. After Betsy parked her car at Kittatinny VC parking lot, she hopped in with me as I drove us along Old Mine Road before making a right turn onto Millbrook Road to park in a widened shoulder parking area near the AT crossing. There was a full moon last night and the morning mist was burning away. The temperature was perfect in the low 40s. The leaves were mostly yellow in color with not as much orange or red hues anymore.
We walked around an iron gate and headed southbound on the trail. We climbed about three hundred feet in elevation in the first 1.1 miles where we reached the Catfish Fire Tower. It is also called the Catfish Lookout Tower. The elevation here is about 1565 feet above sea level.
After climbing up several sections of the tower’s steps, we were treated to wonderful views of the valleys on each side of the ridge-line. We could even see in the far distance the High Point Monument on High Point Mountain.
We continued hiking along the ridge-line. Sometimes the AT meandered slightly from the exact ridge-line by proceeding along rocky ledges on the southern side of the ridge-line. Hikers have to be very careful with foot placement in these areas. The drop off over the cliff is very steep.
After descending four hundred feet and having hiked about 3.2 miles, we came to the Camp Road (gravel) crossing which leads to the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC). In this direction, hikers would turn right to head to the MOC.
Since we were not staying there and did not need to visit, we continued south across a small bridge over a smaller stream.
We climbed back up four hundred feet and began following the ridge-line again until we passed the Kaiser Trail intersection which heads west off the AT. About six tenths of mile past this intersection we passed a sign indicating the start of the Worthington State Forest.
We reached the Kittatinny Mountain Rocky Summit which was 5.6 miles into this day’s hike. There were about fifteen different hikers and Audubon Society type bird watchers. At least one had a clipboard which I presume was used to keep a tally on the numbers and species of birds seen.
We took a break here and sat on some of the huge pile of boulders which adorned the top of the mountain. My wife Bernadette wanted to make sure that I gave Betsy some of Bernadette’s favorite power bars for when we hike at the Mohonk Preserve. So I gave Betsy two of them.
We left the bird watchers to their counting and continued south again, past a power-line right of way and then began a slow descent as we saw several bodies of water to our left. The first was Lower Yards Creek Reservoir which was followed by the noticeably smaller Upper Yards Creek Reservoir. At the 7.3 mile mark we reached the northern end of the Sunfish Pond which is a pond created by retreating glaciers.
The trail hugging near the northern shoreline of this pond was very difficult due to the many loose and fixed pointed rocks we had to step onto and around. Although we only had about a half a mile to get to the southern end of the pond, it was tough walking.
However, the effort required was made more bearable by the beautiful views across the pond and by the occasional rock cairn sculpture garden which had been created in several different locations along the waters edge. I am used to seeing small rock cairns which usually mark a trail when there are no blazes or other man made signage but some of these cairn gardens were just for the artistic appreciation of passing hikers.
We had a nice bench seat on the south end of the pond and we rested briefly there. A couple of dogs came and drank from the pond as their hiking masters waited nearby.
We were two thirds of the way done our hike and I wanted to get the last 4.3 miles done in less than two hours. We started heading south and enjoyed the gradual descent which continued as we passed the Backpacker Campsite kiosk. The Douglas Trail intersects at this junction with the AT.
Some hikers were already set up to camp overnight at this location which had a privy nearby.
Thereafter, the trail seemed to get much less rocky and, at times, was close to walking on a soft bed of fallen leaves. Trail maintainers had even placed some flat rocks in step configurations to help the climb down (or the climb up for northbounders). Betsy captured me heading down one set of the rock stairs.
Our descent continued to where the Dunnfield Trail intersects with the Dunnfield Creek which was on our left hand side. Many persons were enjoying the area and the large boulders and cliff faces around the creek gave this whole area the feeling of being in a gorge.
A couple in their 30s, who were walking northbound on the trail, stopped us to ask how far it was to the Sunfish Pond. We explained that it was about four miles, all uphill, to reach the southern part of the pond. Betsy and I noticed that neither person had a bottle of water or any backpack for supplies. It was already 4:30pm and the sun was getting low on the horizon. The couple smartly decided they would just hike for an hour and then turn around and come back.
After descending about 1100 feet in the past four miles, we crossed a small bridge over the Dunnfield Creek.
We finally reached the Dunnfield Trail-head circular parking area next to the I-80 access road. We then turned left for a short walk before turning right to go underneath I-80 and another right to return to Betsy’s car in the Kittatinny Visitor Center parking lot. Although I don’t remember exactly how I phrased my words, I said something to Betsy like “Do you know where your car keys are?” and Betsy said she did. She replied that they were in the cup-holder in my car back at the parking area at the start of our hike. Oops.
Betsy bailed us out big time because in short order Betsy stepped in front of an SUV driven by a young woman who had just finished a local trail hike herself. As the lady driver was just heading out the parking lot driveway, Betsy explained our predicament. The SUV driver, Liz, said the three words I wanted to hear – “Sure, hop in.” Incredible. If I was alone, I think I would have been there a long time trying to get a ride. Now, as kind as Liz was in her AT trail angel role, the whole story gets even better. Betsy and Liz started talking in the front as Liz drove the fifteen minutes along Old Mine Road back toward my car. Liz explained that she worked as a nurse in a hospital in New Jersey. She specialized in doing some intervention procedures. I interrupted her by asking if she helped do lung biopsy procedures and she said she did. I explained about my cancer and Liz said she was getting the chills listening to my story. What are the odds that this person was the one to help us out. Thank you Liz. Liz dropped us off at my car and this adventure capped another scenic section hike with Betsy. Betsy found her keys and I drove her back to her car. This was our longest hike so far.
More to come. But first some rest.
I have now hiked a total of 206.8 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York (state completed), 57.4 in New Jersey (almost done, only section #5 left to do), 43.8 in Connecticut and 15.8 in Pennsylvania].